Thursday, August 16, 2012

1964 World Series: Turning Point

The Teams
National League: St. Louis Cardinals (93-69) - 10th World Series (won in 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946)
American League: New York Yankees (99-63) - 29th World Series (won 20 previous times)

What Happened
For the 15th time in 18 seasons, the Yankees won the American League pennant in 1964. It was a tradition as reliable as baseball itself. But this year, the Yankees dynasty was sputtering to an end. Mickey Mantle was now a sore-legged right fielder, Yogi Berra was managing rather than catching, and even the great Whitey Ford was starting to reach the end of the line.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals were back on their way up. After dominating the 1940s with a team built by Branch Rickey, St. Louis fell back in the 1950s after Rickey moved on to Brooklyn and the stars he signed with the Cardinals started to retire. In 1964, though, they climbed back on top, riding the superb pitching of Bob Gibson to beat the Dodgers and Giants to the pennant.

Ford looked to give the Yankees an early lead in the series, and he took a 4-2 lead into the 6th inning. Then, suddenly, his arm went dead. With no warning or explanation, Ford lost all zip on his fastball and command of his off-speed pitches, and he left the game in the middle of the inning; he would never pitch in a World Series game again. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were mounting a comeback off Ford and reliever Al Downing. By the time they were done, they had a 9-5 win.

Ford's arm troubles turned out to be a lucky break for the Cardinals, as they lost the next two games, including Game 3 on a walk-off home run by Mantle. The Cardinals then seized the advantage in the series, winning Games 4 and 5 in Yankee Stadium. Game 4 was won on the strength of a Ken Boyer grand slam, and Gibson followed that up with a complete-game, 13-strikeout gem, which the Cardinals won on a three-run home run by Tim McCarver in the 10th.

Back home in St. Louis, the Cardinals blew their first chance to clinch by losing Game 6; Joe Pepitone's eighth-inning grand slam was the biggest blast. Game 7 was a matchup between Gibson, who was pitching just two days after throwing 10 innings in Game 5, and Mel Stottlemyre, the 22-year-old Yankee rookie who beat Gibson in Game 2. Like Gibson, Stottlemyre had also pitched in Game 7; unlike the great Cardinals' ace, he seemed to be affected by it. The Cardinals scored three runs off Stottlemyre in the 4th, then added three more off Downing in the 5th. That was enough for Gibson, but only just so - he gave up three home runs, including two in the ninth - but ended up with the 7-5 win.

The '64 series was viewed as a turning point in baseball. In a simply athletic sense, it propelled the Cardinals into dynasty stage, as they went to the World Series two more times in the 60s, while the Yankees wouldn't be back until 1976. On a larger front, it has retroactively been assigned a big racial significance, as the "blacker" National League had once again proven superior to the "whiter" American League. In reality, the Cardinals were a bad team to use as this example, as they were among the last National League teams to integrate, doing so seven years after Jackie Robinson debuted and just one year before the Yankees. Still, though, the fact remains that the National League teams were generally quick to embrace black or Hispanic players while the American League was slower to, and that seemed to change after 1964.

Defining Game
Through four innings, Game 5 was a great pitching duel between Gibson, the Cardinals ace, and Stottlemyre, the de facto Yankees ace now that Ford was out. The only threat came in the second, when the Yankees loaded the bases before Gibson struck out Clete Boyer (Ken's brother) and Stottlemyre to end the threat. That was it until Gibson started his own rally in the fifth, singling and scoring the first run. The Cardinals added one more run that inning, then sat back and let Gibson do his thing. That worked just fine until the 9th, when New York's Tom Tresh hit a stunning two-out, two-run home run to send the game into extra innings. Forced to work extra, the Cardinals bats woke up again, as McCarver's three-run home run gave Gibson a huge cushion. This time, he finished the job.

Not surprisingly, Gibson won the award after winning Games 5 and 7, even though of the three World Series he would eventually pitch in, this one was his worst. Still, you can't argue with 31 strikeouts in 27 innings. Well, unless you're McCarver. The Cardinals catcher batted .478 in the series with 11 hits and five runs batted in. He even added a steal of home in Game 7. Think of that the next time he says something asinine on a national baseball broadcast.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

New York 5823 285
St. Louis 931 45 (10)37

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

35. 1964 - St. Louis (N) def. New York (A) 4-3
36. 2003 - Florida (N) def. New York (A) 4-2
37. 1977 - New York (A) def. Los Angeles (N) 4-2
38. 1996 - New York (A) def. Atlanta (N) 4-2
39. 1921 - New York (N) def. New York (A) 5-3
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

Game 7s
Simultaneously, I'll rank all the Game 7s. The ones that have appeared in my countdown so far:

12. 1979: Pittsburgh 4, Baltimore 1
13. 1955: Brooklyn 2, New York (A) 0
16. 1940: Cincinnati 2, Detroit 1
18. 1987: Minnesota 4, St. Louis 2
19. 1958: New York 6, Milwaukee 2
21. 1968: Detroit 4, St. Louis 1
22. 1931: St. Louis (N) 4, Philadelphia (A) 2
26. 1982: St. Louis 6, Milwaukee 3
28. 1965: Los Angeles 2, Minnesota 0
29. 1964: St. Louis 7, New York (A) 5

31. 1967: St. Louis 7, Boston 2
32. 1945: Detroit 9, Chicago (N) 3
33. 1909: Pittsburgh 8, Detroit 0

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